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Then and now: Art Institute of Chicago

Circa 1892

The Art Institute of Chicago opened its Michigan Avenue location in 1893. Originally called the Chicago Academy of Design, it was founded in 1866 in a Dearborn Street studio. When the academy burned in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, the organization sank into debt and floundered for two decades until the Michigan Avenue spot was built in conjunction with the World’s Fair. This photo shows a barren museum entrance. The two bronze lions standing guard remain, but their green patina was likely less visible at the turn of the century as, you know, that’s what happens when you leave copper outside for a long time.


2015

Today’s Art Institute is flanked by Millennium Park and Cloud Gate to the north, a whole mess of gardens to the south and the South Shore Line to the east. None of those existed in 1900—hardly anything that exists in the area today did. In 1909, Michigan Avenue was widened, which pushed the lions back by 12 feet. The museum got a huge addition in 2009 with the opening of the Modern Wing, designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano. Today, Michigan Avenue is one of the hottest streets for tourists in the entire country, but the iconic street still attracted out-of-towners back then: It was the end of Route 66.

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